For some of us it takes quite a while to figure out why we do what we do, or to become clear on what we ought to be doing. I started blogging more than 5 years ago, and it has taken until today to come up with a model that captures how I moderate comments on my blog.

My husband Doug is a journalism professor and a passionate defender of freedom of speech, and I have misunderstood the concept all these years to mean that I had an ethical obligation to allow commenters to have free reign (within reason) on my blog. However, Doug helped me understand that freedom of speech is really for newspapers to be free from government interference. Newspapers themselves are quite free to fact check and edit anything that appears in their pages, and they certainly have the right to edit the “letters to the editor” section, which is the closest parallel to the comments on a blog.

Grasping the idea that comments on a blog are more like the “letters to the editor” section than articles in a newspaper, I had my great “Eureka!” moment: Rather than defining my goal as to intervene as little as possible, my goal can be to ensure that the conversation sheds Light on the matter that has brought us together (virtually). I usually write blog posts driven by hunger for particular knowledge or spiritual deepening in a specific area. I can moderate comments as if I were clerking a called business meeting about the topic I feel the need to explore with your participation.

The following two Advices and Queries from Britain Yearly Meeting seem particularly close to my understanding blogging, comments, and how to moderate conversations: 

5. Take time to learn about other people’s experiences of the Light. Remember the importance of the Bible, the writings of Friends and all writings which reveal the ways of God. As you learn from others, can you in turn give freely from what you have gained? While respecting the experiences and opinions of others, do not be afraid to say what you have found and what you value. Appreciate that doubt and questioning can also lead to spiritual growth and to a greater awareness of the Light that is in us all.

15. Do you take part as often as you can in meetings for church affairs? Are you familiar enough with our church government to contribute to its disciplined processes? Do you consider difficult questions with an informed mind as well as a generous and loving spirit? Are you prepared to let your insights and personal wishes take their place alongside those of others or be set aside as the meeting seeks the right way forward? If you cannot attend, uphold the meeting prayerfully.

I intend to be as generous and loving as possible. I confess that I do like to stick to a line of inquiry, and if it seems like a comment is a distraction, I may try to steer it back on track. If I think comments are inflammatory or divisive, I will probably intervene, see my previous blog post, Rules of Verbal Engagement, for details. I will also edit if a commenter seems to be putting her- or himself at risk, or making others vulnerable. As in a Quaker business meeting, I encourage commenters to address their somments to the clerk, not participants in the conversation. Rules for their own sake have never interested me much, so I can easily promise to use as light and loving a touch as I know how to do.

Query for prayerful consideration: What are the qualities of good conversations on a blog? How can a moderator facilitate good conversations?